UNIVERSITY PARK - Players and coaches like to say that a single play never determines the outcome of a game. But Thursday night at the Jordan Center, Penn State proved that theory wrong.
The Nittany Lions broke out of their 0-6 slide to start the Big Ten season by rallying to beat Nebraska, 58-54, and things turned in PSU's favor for good on a spectacular flurry with just more than a minute remaining.
"There were a lot of plays that played into [the win]," said Lion senior guard Tim Frazier, who finished with 11 points, nine rebounds, six assists and two steals. "But obviously that's the play that's going to be magnified because it was so magnificent because of the dunk."
The dunk in question was delivered by fellow guard D.J. Newbill, who was also fouled. He converted the conventional 3-point play to give the Lions a 53-51 lead with 1:05 remaining, and they would not trail the rest of the way.
But the play was about so much more than the slam. It began 13 seconds earlier, when Penn State went to a three-quarter-court press after forward Donovan Jack scored on a put-back.
Frazier and Newbill immediately trapped Cornhusker guard Deverell Biggs, who panicked. Biggs tried to split the trap and stumbled, losing the ball. Frazier dove first and grabbed the ball near midcourt.
"They're the winning plays we need to make," PSU coach Pat Chambers said.
From his knees, Frazier fired a pass to Newbill, who powered to the basket and threw down a dunk over Shavon Shields. The crowd of 5,705 erupted.
"Tim made a great play and I finished it," Newbill said.
"That's Penn State basketball," Chambers said. "We work hard, and that's what I want to see. I want to see our guys make winning plays."
They were overdue. In bumbling to 0-6 in the Big Ten, the Lions were usually in games late but did not produce in the clutch. They seemed to be finding ways to lose.
They nearly did it again after taking the late lead Thursday. Things seemed to be well in hand when John Johnson nailed a deep 3-pointer with 18 seconds left to make it 56-51.
But Nebraska's Terran Petteway countered with a triple of his own six seconds later to make it 56-54 and the Cornhuskers called timeout to set their press. Penn State was still sitting on two timeouts, and seemed to be in good shape.
But Newbill lost his cool and threw a long pass that went off Jack's hands and out of bounds. Nebraska took over with 10.4 seconds left.
"Is there any other way we can give a game away?" Chambers said later.
But they didn't blow this one. There was a scramble after the inbound pass, and PSU freshman guard Geno Thorpe stripped Biggs.
It resulted in a tie-up and the arrow pointed Penn State's way. After a dicey-inbound pass that forward Brandon Taylor mishandled, Frazier came up with the ball and was fouled with half a second left.
He made both shots to seal it.
But the game was won just over a minute earlier, when a wild scrum led to the Newbill jam. Up until that point, Chambers felt his team was "on the hump" and just needed something positive to happen to break out of the long funk.
"Now, hopefully we're over it," he said
Game notes: Penn State improved to 10-10 overall and 1-6 in the Big Ten. ... The Cornhuskers are 8-8 and 1-5. ... Newbill had 16 to lead the Lions, Johnson 13, and Frazier and Taylor 11. ... Petteway led Nebraska with 15. ... PSU forward Ross Travis was limited to four minutes due to flu-like symptoms. ... The Lions have a bye this weekend. Next up is a trip to Ohio State next Wednesday (7 p.m., BTN).